Russia sets off ‘busy week in the Barents’

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With the Russian military stepping up its training exercises in the Arctic, and Norway keen to follow the action with not just one but two so-called “spy ships,” it’s been an unusually busy week in the Barents Sea, reports the Independent Barents Observer. The online news service that specializes in Arctic issues claimed there were “missiles here, there and everywhere.”

PHOTO: The Independent Barents Observer/Thomas Nilsen

Norway’s new surveillance vessel is home-ported in Kirkenes, but has been busy in the Barents this week, following the latest round of Russian military exercises. PHOTO: The Independent Barents Observer/Thomas Nilsen

Norway could press its new Kirkenes-based surveillance ship Marjata into service, and now also has its older version of the vessel, renamed Eger, in Arctic waters as well. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that it was the first time Norway had two “spy ships” in action in the Barents and Norwegian seas at the same time.

So extensive was Russia’s latest round of military exercises in its sector of the Barents that it was closed to all civilian vessels (external link to the Independent Barents Observer). Sailing was prohibited, reported the news service, because of “shootings with missiles and artillery.” Warnings reading as such were posted in the area and on Wednesday, the Russians reportedly even fired a Bulava ballistic missile.

Morten Haga Lunde, head of Norway’s military intelligence unit E-tjenesten, told Aftenposten there was a need to have both of the country’s surveillance ships in the Barents, as a direct response to the Russian activity.

“We’re observing increased Russian military activity in our neighbouring areas,” Lunde said. Norway’s Marjata was in international waters, but close to Russian territory. The new vessel will pretty much remain there, Aftenposten reported, since Russia has been conducting major exercises and drills with its new, modernized equipment every month lately.

The Eger is based in Harstad and for deployment in the Norwegian Sea. “It will follow activity on the surface, like civilian and military transport including high-risk transports, along with activity in the air and underwater,” Haga told Aftenposten.

While tensions have risen between Norway and Russia in recent years, following Russia’s highly contested annexation of Crimea and intervention in Ukraine, both sides seem to be trying to remain good neighbours. Asked whether Norway had received any negative reaction to its surveillance, Haga said he wasn’t aware of any: “As a Russian admiral once told to me, ‘it’s important to have good knowledge about your neighbours, more important than knowledge about your relatives.” Berglund